The Target (표적) – ★★★☆☆

The Target (표적)

The Target (표적)

On a dark and rainy night, a shoot-out transpires in the back streets of Seoul. As a mysterious man is chased through the streets he is shot, and hit by a car. Taken to hospital, doctor Lee Tae-joon (Lee Jin-wook (이진욱) treats the man who police identify as ex-military man Baek Yeo-hoon (Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡), wanted in connection with murder. However Tae-joon’s problems are just beginning, as later that night his pregnant wife Hee-joo (Jo Yeo-jeong (조여정) is abducted, with the kidnapper demanding  Yeo-hoon in exchange for her safe return. Yet as Tae-joon attempts to hand over the fugitive, a special task force lead by Chief Song (Yoo Joon-sang (유준상) are called in, and a deadly game of cat-and-mouse begins.

Yeo-hoon is on the run, but from what and from whom are a mystery

Yeo-hoon is on the run, but from what and from whom are a mystery

The Target (표적) is a remake of critically acclaimed French thriller Point Blank (2010), which clearly must have impressed the French for the film premiered in the Midnight Screening section at the Cannes Film Festival. Quite why, however, is something of a mystery as Director Chang’s version is an extremely mediocre action film, taking the basis of the superior original and altering it to make a very competent, solid, and enjoyable action romp yet one that fades from memory with ease.

The Target begins well, setting a dark ominous tone in which the violence is located as well as for the mysteries to originate. The impressive tension continues through to the hospital scenes, where the introduction (and indeed, inclusion) of no-nonsense female detective Jeong Yeong-joo (Kim Seong-ryeong (김성령) and deputy Soo-jin (Jo Eun-ji (조은지) are a refreshingly welcome addition in a genre that is often overly-masculine, with their stern, efficient attempts to uncover Yeo-hoon’s identity and his role in the murder case one of the highlights of the thriller. Yet following a hospital breakout sequence, the tone of the film never stays consistent as director Chang attempts to juggle the abundance of characters and their respective narrative arcs, and as such the excitement begins to wane. Ironically however as the pace is generally handled well the film never becomes stale, resulting in a film that is difficult to fully invest in but entertaining nonetheless.

The situation gets complicated when Detective Jeong clashes with Chief Song

The situation gets complicated when Detective Jeong clashes with Chief Song

A similar accusation can also be aimed at the action sequences within The Target. While there are plenty of physical confrontations to enjoy, the sequences are always rudimentary and uninspired, failing to capitalise on the premise or even simply to make the film stand out from the vast number of action-thrillers that already exist. Yeo-hoon, for example, is supposedly an ex-military man with a decade of experience yet his fighting prowess rarely extends beyond that of an average man with basic training. There are fleeting moments however when director Chang is seemingly attempting to enter The Berlin File territory yet never quite manages to achieve it, and as such the action scenes are enjoyable while they last but don’t linger in the memory.

Another pivotal reason why The Target is entertaining yet tough to fully engage with is due to the large number of protagonists and supporting characters, which ultimately distracts attention away from the central story of fugitive Yeo-hoon and doctor Tae-joon. As the film continually focuses on peripheral characters and narrative tangents the main story becomes subsumed, making Yeo-hoon and Tae-joon’s uneasy alliance, as well as their quest to solve the mystery and save pregnant Hee-joo, moderately compelling and more of a backdrop to the carnage. Actors Ryu Seung-ryong and Lee Jin-wook perform their roles capably despite relatively weak character arcs, as does Jo Yeo-jeong as the damsel-in-distress, however it is Jin-goo as Tourette syndrome sufferer Sung-hoon and Kim Seong-ryeong as detective Jeong that provide the most interesting performances. Ultimately, with so many characters on screen, The Target is an amusing viewing experience, but one with little depth.

Yeo-hoon and Tae-joon must form an uneasy alliance to save pregnant Hee-joo

Yeo-hoon and Tae-joon must form an uneasy alliance to save pregnant Hee-joo

Verdict:

The Target is a remake of French thriller Point Blank by director Chang, and while he has constructed an entertaining action-thriller it’s one that fades from memory relatively easily. With competent yet uninspired action sequences, and an abundance of quality actors that serve to distract from the central story with their respective narrative arcs, The Target is an enjoyable action romp yet when that misses the mark.

★★★☆☆

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Hae-gook must traverse a literal tunnel of deceit

Moss (이끼) – ★★★★☆

Moss (이끼)

Moss (이끼)

The corruption of the ruling elite is certainly nothing new in Korean cinema. After years of military dictatorships and scandalous corporate backhanders, it’s clearly understandable why such themes are continuously prevalent. However these narratives often approach from a reactionary perspective, highlighting the suffering of those victimized by injustices. Little explored are the foundations of a community, the roles and interplay of law, religion, power, crime and punishment in the creation of a society. Such Shakespearean motifs are traditionally reserved for period dramas, yet Kang Woo-seok’s (강우석) Moss (이끼) wonderfully examines the labyrinthine networks of power in a contemporary village in Gangwon province. Based on the incredibly popular internet comic, Moss is an exhilarating and fresh addition to the thriller genre.

While struggling against a law suit, Ryoo Hae-gook (Park Hae-il (박해일) receives news that his estranged father, Yoo Mok-hyeong (Heo Joon-ho (허준호), has died. Visiting the estate, Hae-gook is surprised to learn of his late father’s role as one of the elder statesmen of the village, yet merely wishes to resolve  any outstanding affairs and return to his life in Seoul. However Hae-gook’s curiosity is piqued when his father’s partner, the powerful village foreman Cheon Yong-deok (Jeong Jae-yeong (정재영) and his three right-hand men – Kim Deok-cheon (Yoo Hae-jin (유해진), Jeon Seok-man (Kim Sang-ho (김상호), and Ha Seong-gyoo (Kim Joon-bae (김준배) – continually attempt to persuade him to leave.  As Hae-gook digs deeper into the mystery of his father’s death and the strange behaviour of the residents, he must confront the disturbing truth about the village and its inhabitants.

The residents of the village are not all they seem

The residents of the village are not all they seem

Screenwriter Jeong Ji-woo (정지우) has translated the web-comic to film with incredible skill, lacing each protagonist with depth and nuance – as well as fully realised character arcs – that makes each confrontation compelling viewing. This is remarkable as the 163 minute running time may seem excessive, but the narrative is so fueled with suspense and the protagonists so fascinating that the time is hardly noticeable. The plot is the epitome of labyrinthine, carefully taking time to construct the scenario through flashbacks and the creation (and breakdown) of relationships through subtle character defining events. Director Kang Woo-seok is impressive in visualizing such dense material, from the intimidating fortress overlooking the village to the claustrophobic subterranean tunnels. Praise should also be bestowed upon the set design, lighting and editing departments, who display ingenuity in creating the tension-filled world of Moss.

The actors are also wonderful in bringing the community of Moss alive. Park Hae-il is excellent as the idealistic Hae-gook who is continually involved in events beyond his understanding, while his nemeses – Yoo Hae-jin, Kim Sang-ho and Kim Joon-bae – are incredibly unnerving and intense in portraying the criminal classes/extensions of power. However, the most exceptional performance belongs to Jeong Jae-yeong, who is loud, violent and ambitious as a young man, but silently commands respect as an elder. The sheer intensity conveyed through his expressions is amazingly sinister, demanding obedience with merely a glance. The weakest link is Yoo Seon as store owner Lee Yeong-ji through no fault on her part, as her role is virtually forgotten until the third act when her presence is suddenly elevated into a lead protagonist.

Hae-gook must traverse a literal tunnel of deceit

Hae-gook must traverse a literal tunnel of deceit

Thematically, Moss is also a triumph. The portrayal of corruption seemingly endemic with the ruling elite is hardly original, but Moss strives to explore all areas in the creation of a society, notably the role of religion. As such, the village in Moss acts as a microcosm for society, and how the younger generation must fight against the greed of their elders. Yong-deok, the village foreman, was a corrupt police officer in his youth but his ambition for power was continually unfulfilled. That is, until he met Mok-hyeong, a man with a violent past that had apparently found redemption through religion who was quickly amassing followers. The jealousy for power and influence ultimately fuels their relationship, yet both are keenly aware that alone they can achieve little. In joining forces to create a community both men have similar intentions but are ideologically opposed, as they wish to exert dominance over others but through different means. Each man is clearly representative of the ideological vie for power in society, and the process in which they become increasingly more corrupt is as organic as it is alarming. There is rather blatant bias however, as Mok-hyeong’s Christian ideology is constantly  represented as inherently ‘good’ which diminishes the exploration somewhat.

In discovering the sinister origins of the village, Hae-gook is representative of the younger generation that must reveal and persecute such greed. Hae-gook studies old books and documents, finds subterranean tunnels, and must even join forces with an enemy in the pursuit of his father’s murderer. As a young divorcee, Hae-gook embodies the change in society as the shift away from tradition becomes ever more apparent. His naivety and idealism is endearing but simultaneously foolhardy, as he continually fails to understand the larger events at hand.

The young and idealistic Hae-gook must face the old and corrupt Yong-deok

The young and idealistic Hae-gook must face the old and corrupt Yong-deok

Verdict:

Moss is a incredibly well executed thriller that delves into Shakespearean themes of the vie for power amongst the ruling classes. The interplay of different features of society, from religion to the criminal classes, constructs a dense tale of suspense that highlights the unfairness, and the generational differences, within a culture and emphasizes the importance of prosecuting the corrupt. The bias nature in representing Christianity, and the under-developed female role slightly detract from the viewing experience, but despite this Moss is a highly entertaining and compelling foray into corruption in contemporary Korea.

★★★★☆

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